Eating behaviors and patterns have begun to increasingly preoccupy a lot of parents. There tend to be various reasons why this aspect gets credited with such prominence. Over time numerous cultural connotations have gotten attached to the concept of eating food and even feeding. Since time immemorial food has been an integral part of our culture and society. Particularly in India it is largely said that love is also demonstrated through the process of making food and feeding another with good food.

Why Talk about Food in the Context of your Pre-teenager?

The point I am making here is that food is and always has been the focal point. The resources of individuals have increased to procure more good quality food, the availability of a larger variety of products has significantly enhanced over time, and as a result, we talk more about food, what we eat, the weight we are at, the prominence of obesity and the lack of physical activity.

Now let us look at the effect this gaining popularity of food on the one hand and our generally sedentary lifestyle on the other is having on the young adolescents who surround us. The effect is that in observance of our ways of being and doing things they are either increasingly concerned about their appearance or are seen to be more preoccupied with food. Be it either end of the spectrum, it can be detrimental for the overall health and well-being of the pre-teen to have a constant desire to monitor weight or control eating patterns or have an increased desire to consume increasing quantities of food or to eat food from outside.

Should we be Concerned about Body Image?

I believe that at the end of the day, how a young adolescent feels about himself is very critical. Usually we tend to subsume this under the broader category of self-esteem. However, the body image this growing pre-teenager has is a significant element which we need to look at in-depth as well. Body image concerns typically start becoming prominent in the pre-teen years and become extremely concerning in the teen years. However, with the increasing exposure to the media, television, internet and the shift in the role models that children have today, there is a corresponding shift happening in the age at which we have begun to see these concerns, with much younger children becoming aware of what they wear, how they look, whether they are fat or thin, how they compare to other children around them.

The Relationship with Social, Emotional and Psychological Development

The body image a pre-teen child develops over time is rather critical in determining how well-adjusted he is, his sense of comfort with himself, his happiness and satisfaction with himself and his relationships. It also affects how he behaves in the presence of others as frequently body image also gets connected to confidence and self-assuredness.

All of these factors clearly reflect the importance that having a healthy body image holds for a pre-teenager to develop and grow into being a successful and accomplished individual as well. It becomes essential then that parents find ways in which these young ones can develop a healthy body image and remain largely unaffected by the desire to be like another or look like them, being too self-conscious and becoming overly concerned about what they eat and what they need to avoid.

How do you give your Pre-teen a Healthy Body Image?

Ensuring that a young adolescent develops a healthy body image is the responsibility of every parent. And in order to that there are some basic things one needs to keep in mind.

    • Encourage your pre-teenager to develop a healthy routine. Balanced food and physical activity should be encouraged so that your child feels good about himself.
    • Talk about feeling good about one’s self. Encourage your pre-teen to be more positive in his evaluations of his own self. Help him understand that there an always be things that one likes and others that one dislikes and what is important is to keep focusing on the good to increase overall sense of happiness and satisfaction.
    • Encourage your pre-teen to share what he thinks and feels about him. Help him in the process of dispelling some of the exaggerated concern which can get attached to the body and associated aspects.
    • Listen to your pre-teen’s concerns but never be dismissive of them. Every moment does not need to be a teaching moment and sometimes you do not have to check your child immediately. Oftentimes the correction in the thought process can be done a little while after the child has shared his thoughts and feelings which would ensure that he is more receptive as the emotional arousal relating to the shared experience would have subsided by then.
    • Recognize and help your pre-teen know and understand the positives and strengths that he possesses.
    • Help your pre-teen know that different people have different assets and that there is no right or wrong way of looking and being. Individual differences are the norm and that is what creates the heterogeneity of society and allows for creativity and innovation to flourish.
    • Reinforce to your pre-teen that he is good enough and that would go a long way in helping him build a positive and healthy body image.
    • Help your pre-teen decipher the meaning of what they see on television and on the internet. Children are not able to decipher the unspoken messages that underlie all media communications and need to be aided in the process so they can make healthy choices and not be swayed by simply what they see and hear. Instead they need to become critical thinkers and that can be done only if parents enable them by having conversations with them around these aspects.
    • Use examples from your own life to ensure that your pre-teenager is able to connect to what you are trying to explain.

A simplistic sounding thing like body image has a long lasting impact. We need to be proactive in our parenting to ensure that a healthy body image is what our children imbibe and internalize.